Mourning the Death of the Local Video Store

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One of the sick pleasures of returning to where you grew up after many years away, especially if you’re from a small town, is seeing what’s changed. While there’s something oddly reassuring in the town gas station looking exactly at the same as it did five years, still seeing the same cheap beer you can only find in upstate New York, the opposite’s true of the things that have been altered. You may have changed and gone through different phases, significant others, haircuts, and music tastes, but you don’t want your town to; the way it looked in 1998 should be the way it looked in 2004 should be the same it looks in 2011.

During my sojourn to where I lived between the ages of 9-18, I was saddened to see the local video store where I had spent hundreds of hours had closed down. Actually, it was worth than that: both video stores were gone.

My town never had a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video; we had Video World and Video Plus, both of which probably should have replaced the word “video” with “DVD” back around 2002 but never did. Not because they were nostalgic; they probably just couldn’t afford to do it. They were only about a half-mile away from one another, on the same strip of road. Video Plus was part of a three-store plaza along with a liquor store* and the place where my mom bought our dishwasher (riveting!), while Video World shared space with a Dunkin Donuts, Family Dollar, and Joey’s Pizza.

There was nothing memorable about either business; they looked like a cheap set from a movie that even they wouldn’t stock. There was no indie section (believe me, no one in Ravena, NY was watching The Rules of the Game, myself included) and, with the exception of maybe Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, very few films with subtitles. But I didn’t care. I wouldn’t have watched The Seventh Seal when I was 13 even if you had rented the video for me (and probably still wouldn’t). The reason they meant to so much to me, why I was so disheartened to see them vanished, was because Video World and Video Plus were where I watched all the great mainstream comedies for the first time.

There was The Jerk and ¡Three Amigos!, Animal House and The Blues Brothers, Annie Hall and Bananas, Blazing Saddles and The Producers, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Caddyshack, Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs., Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. You read you Splitsider; you know what I mean. These were the kind of movies that I would watch when I sick but felt better by the time they finished because I had forgotten my illness, the kind that I’d stay up all night (on a school night!) to see, especially once both brought out their 5 Movies/5 Night/$5 deal. You know that scene from Freaks and Geeks, where Bill’s eating lunch and watching an episode of Dinah!? That was me, except I was watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the Who wasn’t playing in the background.

It was also where I rented movies I had seen in theaters, but needed to watch again. Obviously, there was no YouTube, so the only way I could remember the entire bit from Black Sheep where Chris Farley recreates a car crash (“…All because you wanna save a couple extra pennies”) was by watching the video over and over again. I’m pretty sure I rented Trading Places more than a few times.

A friend of mine always use to hate when another friend and I went into either of the video stores because we’d often not actually rent anything; we’d simply go through the store’s entire collection, finding the cheesiest covers and movie titles (often in the horror section) and make fun of them. In retrospect, it was just an unfunny version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but at the time, it was a blast. Fittingly, I watched MST3K: The Movie for the first time from a rented Video World copy.

People often speak so highly of obscure video/DVD stores, but I’m guessing before they fell in love with the Marx Brothers, they watched Woody Allen and Billy Crystal. Your local, crappy video store acts as a gateway drug to the heavier shit you’ll later experience, and now that Video World and Video Plus are gone, it’s like my stash of weed has been thrown out (man).

This isn’t to say that I’m mad at Netflix or the Redbox vending machine outside the local Wal-Mart or inside the Duane Reade, depending on where you live. I love Netflix. I can’t imagine not having it. All I’m asking is that for a brief second, think about your own Video World and Video Plus, remember how you watched Airplane! there, then go back to watching all of The Office on Netflix Instant.

* I also went into the aforementioned liquor store for the first time ever during my weekend visit. When you’re teenager without a fake ID or hip parents (read: parents whom don’t give a shit about their children), there is nothing in the world that you’d want more than to be able to go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of alcohol without hassle from the person running the register. We’ve all seen Superbad. It seemed so cool, so sexy, so grown-up. When I finally went in, though, something became instantly clear: it was just a store with alcohol. Nothing alluring or enchanting about it. Sigh.

Josh Kurp regrets ever renting When Harry Met Sally.